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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 September 2005, 11:56 GMT 12:56 UK
Failing school adopts Montessori
Head teacher Carol Powell and Philip Bujak, Montessori chief executive, with Gorton Mount Primary School pupils - courtesy of Montessori St Nicholas Centre
The school thinks Montessori methods will help pupils
A struggling Manchester school hopes a radical teaching approach - which allows children to learn at their own pace - will turn its fortunes around.

Gorton Mount Primary is the first UK state school to use Montessori methods since the 1930s.

Thirty-six languages are spoken by its pupils, of which 37% have special needs and 71% have free school meals.

It was placed in special measures until last year and has had seven head teachers in six years.

The BBC's recent Born Abroad survey revealed Gorton had the North West's highest percentage of residents born outside the UK, of 24.1%.

We believe that Montessori methods can make a real and lasting difference to attainment at Gorton Mount and elsewhere
Philip Bujak, Montessori chief executive

Head teacher Carol Powell, who took charge two-and-a-half years ago, has been credited with improving discipline and academic achievement.

She said it made sense for it to become a Montessori school as its recent improvement had been influenced by the charity's methods.

She said: "We want [pupils] to be Montessori children. This means that they will be rounded citizens for the 21st Century.

"They will be high achieving individuals who believe that anything is possible, but also able to work in harmony with others in school and in their wider society."

Montessori schools are normally associated with affluent middle-class areas.

Montessori Schools
Dr Maria Montessori opened her first school in Rome in 1907
She believed children learnt best in their own way at their own pace
Teachers direct children towards "learning opportunities" rather than teach in the traditional sense
Children's freedom, dignity and independence are emphasised
Pupils follow activities which absorb and interest them in order to develop a joy of learning
The Montessori method aims to produce fully rounded and happy children

The Gorton project is the first time its methods will have been tested in an area with classic inner-city problems like social exclusion, unemployment and crime.

The project, which initially lasts until April 2006, will only affect about 100 nursery and reception pupils aged three to five.

Classrooms have been redesigned along with the teaching methods that will be employed.

It has not yet been decided whether to extend the project to older pupils.

Philip Bujak, the Montessori chief executive, said the Gorton project showed the charity rejected former Chief Inspector of Schools Chris Woodhead's view that struggling state schools should be "left to die".

Staff training

He added: "Despite huge challenges, this school has made tremendous progress in recent months through the commitment of the head teacher and staff but they and we believe that Montessori methods can make a real and lasting difference to attainment at Gorton Mount and elsewhere."

The project is the result of a 80,000 public-private partnership between Manchester City Council, the UK government and the Montessori St Nicholas charity.

Four heads of Montessori schools will train the school's staff in the charity's methods.

Sarah Rowledge, head of the Absolute Angels Montessori School, in Coggeshall, Essex, will leave her current job for two months to oversee the project.

There are about 700 Montessori schools in the UK.

See inside the school teaching Montessori methods

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